Monday 11 December 2017

Relaxed Kerry let guard down as Tyrone keep their distance

Mickey Harte places himself above the noise and fury
Mickey Harte places himself above the noise and fury

Declan Bogue

Two very different counties, in two sharply contrasting positions, held their press events last week. Proceedings in Tyrone and Kerry reflected that.

Thursday night's event in Killarney's Brehon Hotel was like a balm for the grazes inflicted on Wednesday night at Garvaghey.

The pre All-Ireland final press call in Kerry is commonly known as the 'Annual Festival of Yerrah', dating back to the 10 finals they reached in 12 years from 1975.

"Put me down for what I said last year," was the refrain from players to journalists, who struggled to define what level of roguery was on display. Was it pure melted, or just melted?

Nowadays, the media is a hungrier beast. 'Pressers' are common before every game now. Sometimes they can work. Other times, they are just a bad idea.


In Kerry, this sort of thing is in their DNA. A press event in the middle of August is just another box to be ticked around the time of The Rose of Tralee festival. Same life, same rhythms.

Tyrone aren't enjoying life like they should. They are defensive. Backed into a corner. Tyrone are terse, tense, taut.

Step into their shoes for one second. They have had a proposed eight-week suspension against one of their players for simulation, a crime that you could dredge up half a dozen examples over the course of this year's Championship.

These incidents weren't afforded a fraction of the analysis that 'The Sunday Game' heads, in print and on screen, devoted to the 'Rufflegate' saga.

But this is Tyrone, they say. So they get the full 'CSI: Sunday Game' treatment.

In Garvaghey, this is what we get: Mickey Harte at the top table, impressive as ever. Assured. When the pressing for his reaction to the proposed ban gets heavy, he states: "I'm control of my place here."

In refusing to get drawn into more negativity, he places himself above the noise and the fury.

At another stage, Harte is asked about those within Tyrone that might want to see him gone.

He answers: "I came across a nice wee statement once that said, 'What everybody else thinks about me, is none of my business'. That keeps me in the right place."

He may suspect that the decision to implement an eight-week suspension is merely a scare tactic by the CCCC, who are sending out a message that simulation shall not tarnish the last three games of the Championship, while also paving the way for the inevitable rule change at Congress.

To Harte's left sits Ronan McNabb. On his right is Peter Harte. The journalists sit yards away, the distance symbolic, like a force-field separating Us and Them. But after all, we're only ordinary men.

We won't be getting any colour out of Tyrone tonight. For that to happen, a conversation has to take place. The format is designed to keep it rigidly to a questions and answers session. The whole thing lasts 37 minutes before Harte cracks the joke, "That's fairly well done now lads, isn't it?"

But they are typically courteous and welcoming. Harte speaks to any journalist who approaches him outside of the conference and shares a word. Members of the Tyrone County Board are helpful.

Fast-forward 24 hours and it's a different group that occupy the Munster Suite of the Brehon Hotel. Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice sits by himself at a table, surrounded by dictaphones. Everyone is within touching distance. He talks for 31 minutes.


David Moran is next in, smiling and laughing and enjoying the experience. And after a gentle bit of persuasion, county PRO John O'Leary makes Mikey Sheehy available for us. Talking to Mikey, one journalist says, is like a round of golf without keeping a scorecard in your tail pocket.

Two very different counties, coming from two very different places. Killarney and Garvaghey are separated by 288 road miles, but in perception, in how the world sees them and how they see themselves, they are galaxies apart.

Perhaps for all the bad publicity the GAA has received over this, they might appreciate how they have dominated the headlines nonetheless.

In this situation, Tyrone are dangerous. Kerry are aware of that.

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